By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — A new "white knight" anti-sleaze party may turn out to be a joker in the pack in the coalition-brokering after the next general election. That is, if the expected shake-out from the crisis of confidence in politics emerges.
The new, as yet unnamed party is in the early stage of discussions among a group that has been to the fore in uncovering the bribery and corruption scandals.
Barrister Colm MacEochaidh said discussions about fielding candidates was at an "embryonic stage" but was under "active consideration."
"Policies have to be worked out, consultations have to be engaged in, it is a very big project to take on," MacEochaidh said. "It is particularly big and daunting for people who don’t have money, support or organizations behind them."
There has been speculation the group may contest 15 of the 45 Dail constituencies.
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MacEochaidh, who’s 37, is not nationally well known, but he and another lawyer were the men who triggered a substantial part of the sleaze self-examination convulsing the country.
Five years ago, following failed Garda investigations, they offered a £10,000 reward in anonymous newspaper advertisements for information on land-rezoning corruption. They used a firm of Newry lawyers.
The ploy worked. Within six weeks, 30 people had contacted the Newry lawyers and among those flushed out was James Gogarty. His allegations of payments to former Foreign Affairs Minister Ray Burke led to the Flood planning tribunal.
"Clearly, I have an interest in trying to bring about an end to what I consider to be corruption in Irish life," MacEochaidh said.
Even before the nomination of former Supreme Court judge Hugh O’Flaherty to a top EU banking post, MacEochaidh said it was obvious that cronyism was a big problem.
He said there were also wider issues, such as the national development plan, which appeared to favor roads and cars over public transportation.
He told RTE the purpose of setting up the party would be to give people the choice of a new movement to channel their anger about what has been happening and vote for a "new beginning."
It would offer a change of thinking in politics and ensure that existing parties "don’t ever again get the idea that they own government."
On the corruption disclosures, MacEochaidh said it is quite extraordinary that now — some considerable time after the revelations — "that we haven’t had so much as an apology from the political establishment for the way in which they took the people’s system and made it their own."
He said a lot of the group’s plans would depend on the timing of the next election. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern does not have to call one before June 2002, but his minority Fianna Fail-Progressive Democrats coalition has recently had to cope with a series of crises.
The last time a significant new party was formed was in 1985 when Des O’Malley established the PDs.
If the new group does emerge to make its mark, it would likely damage not only the main parties but also the PDs and the Greens.
Recent opinion polls have been showing a backlash against the steady drip-feed of revelations from the tribunals. A crusading "new deal" party could capitalize on this as it would not be carrying any baggage from the past.